As someone who has BioShock on their personal top ten games of all-time list and top three of 2013, I had to go back to play the DLC that marries the two worlds of Rapture and Columbia together. But is Burial at Sea capable of properly combining two memorable stories and two memorable settings into one cohesive whole or does Burial at Sea come off as nothing but BioShock fan service for the sake of nostalgia?
Spoiler Alert: There are spoilers for BioShock and the BioShock Infinite main game in this review. Even though the spoilers are one and seven years old, respectively, some people get really uppity about this sort of thing so consider yourselves warned.
Have you read the spoiler alert because I’m getting spoilery right off the start. Following the Rapture teaser at the end of Infinite, we return to Rapture. However, it doesn’t tie directly into the ending you saw. Burial at Sea exists in an alternate timeline/reality from the Infinite prime reality despite any timeline reformation that may have happened in Infinite’s concluding scene.
Burial at Sea’s story starts on December 31, 1958, which is the eve of the fall of Rapture. While that date means something to BioShock fans, it doesn’t play a role in Episode One of Burial at Sea. Instead, you’re Booker DeWitt, private eye, hired by a femme fatale looking Elizabeth to find a missing girl who Booker lost while gambling.
Booker and Liz aren’t the only two characters in Burial at Sea that you’ll recognize. Sander Cohen makes an appearance early in the DLC. Dr. Suchong’s voice returns in audiologs. Frank Fontaine’s name comes up a lot. There are also the familiar turrets and splicers from the first game for you to shoot and plasmid to death.
Don’t go into this expecting a return to BioShock proper. Most of the mechanics carry over from Infinite. Sky-lines are retconned into the world of Rapture as the pipes for the pneumo tubes. Gear makes an appearance for passive abilities as opposed to the passive plasmids from BS1. Tears are properly retconned in and explained in a way that makes sense by the end.
As you would expect, vigors and salts are in Burial at Sea. While each visually looks the same in that they come in the same shaped bottles, they’ve been rechristened Plasmids and Eve, as it should be in Rapture. All your favourite vending machines are back but hacking doesn’t make a return. You start with the possession plasmid from Infinite to serve that end but it’s just not as fun.
While most of the mechanics carry over from Infinite, some mechanics return from BioShock proper. The weapon wheel makes a comeback. The ice element plasmid makes a return under the new name Old Man Winter. You don’t need Elizabeth to open all the doors because using the Shock Jockey (lightning elemental plasmid) can open doors. Stealth kills are back too. At least, I think stealth kills were in BioShock. If not, new mechanic! And it gives you a new way to approach combat.
I shouldn’t neglect to mention that Big Daddies are back. One makes an appearance as the final boss of the DLC which is only fitting considering the location. That Big Daddy is a new “Bouncer” class Big Daddy that can jump and fire its drill as a Scorpion-style GET OVER HERE hook. Just when you think that you can get away with getting some separation using the pneumo pipes, that Big Daddy pulls you back in. It makes for a difficult fight as you keep on the move but you can’t run and hide.
One other interesting change in the mechanics is that everything seems scarce. I found ammo came and went in quick bursts, often going more quickly than being found. Maybe it’s my aim (though I got really good at headshots with the pistol) but I often found myself short on ammo, health and eve. Even Liz was slow and slim on helpful items. It seems as though Burial at Sea tries to be a bit more survival oriented than Infinite but it doesn’t really try to incorporate horror elements.
The story doesn’t really seem to matter in Burial at Sea, unlike Infinite. The search for the missing girl drives your actions but it doesn’t seem to mean anything. That long preamble about timelines at the start of this review is the thing that’s relevant to the DLC’s story.
Visually, it’s a nice return to Rapture with familiar design assembled in a prettier game engine. BioShock doesn’t look bad seven years on but Unreal 2.5 doesn’t look as good as Unreal 3 in the hands of an experience design team. While Burial at Sea looks good and looks familiar, it seldom has that same epic scale as Infinite proper. There are only two or three seascape moments. Often, it feels small, enclosed and claustrophobic. I’m not saying BioShock felt open but it felt big. BioShock felt like there were big areas as opposed to enclosed areas for target practice. I know Rapture wasn’t expansive but the scale felt bigger.
At least the voice acting is fine. All the characters that you know from BioShock and BioShock Infinite return for Burial at Sea. Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper are, once again, great as Booker and Liz. The smart script writing and acting does show that the pair’s different relationship in BaS (Booker doesn’t know her) compared to Infinite.
I guess that how much you like this DLC will come down to what you’re looking for from this DLC. The visuals are nice and the voice acting is still great. The gameplay is closer to Infinite than BioShock. If you’re looking for the great BioShock story, you’re not going to get it here. That’s the biggest deal breaker for me.
Another downside that I haven’t mentioned yet is that, a la carte, Burial at Sea is $15. That’s outlandish for a DLC that’s about two to three hours worth of content for that price. As a portion of the Season Pass, its prorated share is $8.58 which would have been much more reasonable a price. You have to factor value for money into the rating. While it’s not the worst value for money ever, I don’t think it stands up to Infinite proper.
There’s still potential for Burial at Sea to turn around in next week’s Episode Two. However, Irrational has to go out with a bang and they can do that with the story of that DLC. That’s what they do best and that’s what they skimped on this time out. It cost them.
BioShock Infinite – Burial At Sea: Episode One was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on, PC specs and how fondly you think of both BioShock and BioShock Infinite.